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Wednesday
Nov212012

Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Damascus Shakes as Assad Regime Wobbles

Aftermath of Tuesday's mortar attack in Damascus

See also Gaza Live Coverage: Israel Rejects Ceasefire and Maintains Assault
Tuesday's Syria (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Is Assad's Military Collapsing?


2114 GMT: Syria. Markito0171 posts an interesting video, reportedly taken yesterday, showing an FSA rocket attack on an airforce intelligence building in Aleppo (map):

As you can see from the screenshot of Google maps, the video matches the satellite images:

2038 GMT: Syria. Back from a research break to find that the death toll has increased considerably. According to the Local Coordination Committees, 95 people have been killed so far today:

35 martyrs were reported in Aleppo; most of them due to the shelling in Shaar neighborhood, 29 in Damascus and its Suburbs,7 in Homs, 7 in Idlib, 7 in Lattakia, 5 in Deir Ezzor, 4 in Daraa and 1 in Raqqa.

See our note on the casualty figures published by the LCC.

The day has largely been characterized by an increasingly intense bombing and shelling campaign in Aleppo and Idlib, as well as the continuation of shelling of civilian areas around Damascus, and more battles for control of both the eastern and western suburbs. So far, there have been no more additional breakthroughs today for either side.

An interesting note. The LCC reports large evening anti-government demonstrations in Al Bukamal, which fell to the FSA late last week. We'll see if we can find some video.

1758 GMT: Bahrain Pro-government newspaper Gulf Daily News reports today that MPs in the Bahrain parlimament have "approved an amendment to the Penal Code" to allow a sentence of up to 5 years for insulting the King. The article notes that "the punishment could be doubled if the King has been insulted in his presence". The proposal will now be studied by the government for approval.

1748 GMT: Syria. Yesterday we posted video of what appeared to be many fires burning in Ma'arrat al Nouman after some sort of cluster bomb fell. The suspicion was that the separate fires were caused by white phosphorous. Now, a second angle, taken by a different camera and narrated by a different cameraman, shows what is quite clearly the same explosion but from a different angle:

It is even more evident from this video than an incendiary substance, likely white phosphorous, is burning in many separate landing spots of the various projectiles.

1734 GMT: Syria. The LCC posts several videos of a building collapse in Aleppo, in the Shaar district. One Tweet suggests it was the Dar al Shifa hospital, and the letters for the name can indeed be seen on the front of the hospital. The fascade of the hospital is clearly knocked off, and a bulldozer appears to be removing rubble from one section that has collapsed entirely:

The key detail - the LCC claims the damage to the building was caused by 3 "barrel bombs," barrels filled with TNT.

1700 GMT: Syria. In the last several hours, there have been a flurry of reports that Kafrouma, in Idlib province, has been heavily shelled, and many people have died. One video shows a young boy, another a young man, and a graphic video shows a young girl, all reportedly killed in the town. Furthermore, this video claims to show the town shelled (or bombed) during the burial of martyrs. We're not sure if the people being buried are the ones just killed, or these people being buried were killed yesterday and these new people were killed today during the burial.

What's really interesting about this video, however, is that there appear to be multiple explosions, as if cluster munitions have been used. Furthermore, the explosions sound small, like bomblets exploding. The amount of smoke is also interesting, raising concerns that perhaps an incendiary weapon, like white phospherous, may have been contained inside the bomblets. Yesterday, video from Ma'arrat al Nouman showed what appeared to be bomblets of incendiary weapons burning on the ground.

1628 GMT: Bahrain EA's John Horne reports:

The last week has seen a series of reports on Bahrain, to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the publication of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) Report. Today the Government issued its own report, which is a followup to BICI. Analyst Marc Owen Jones was quick to respond to the reports contents on his blog. Some highlights:

The most alarming finding of the follow up report is that 45 death cases were closed ‘ due to lack of evidence of any criminal act’ (para 25). 45 is a colossal number of people, and to have cases closed in so many cases is just ludicrous. Given all this police training, have CID neglected to go to policing 101 – ‘how to solve a murder’.

(...)

The follow up report issued in June also states 3 officers were convicted of assault and battery (para 7). What’s funny about this, is that the latest report documents all deaths reported, but fails to mention that any police personnel have been convicted. Usually the regime are quick to ‘laud’ their commitment to justice, so why have they not mentioned that any police officers have been convicted? Very worrying.

(...)

Out of 122 cases of mistreatment and torture reported to the authorities, only 11 police personnel were taken to court, the highest ranking of whom was a Lieutenant Colonel. Given the trajectory of previous cases, I imagine they will all be acquitted, perhaps with the removal of doughnut privileges (para 28).

1605 GMT: Bahrain EA's John Horne reports:

Whilst the current news in relations between the UK and Bahrain concerns yesterdays meeting between in London which led the formation of a "new ministerial-level dialogue", the BBC is catching up with an agreement signed over a month ago. On 11 october, Bahrain state media announced that the government had signed a new "defence cooperation agreement bonding Bahrain and the UK". The text of the agreement is unknown and it has been barely mentioned by British media. Asked about its contents in Parliament, British Minister for International Security Strategy Andrew Murrison said it, "provides a framework for current and future defence engagement activity, including training and capacity building, in order to enhance the stability of the wider region". However, he would not release the text of the accord.

Speaking to the BBC this morning, Bahrain analyst Dr Jane Kinnnimont said:

It's not clear to what extent this agreement will really deepen military cooperation between the UK and Bahrain.

The uprising in Bahrain hasn't finished, things look likely to go from bad to worse, and there'll be a lot of concerns about exactly what sort of weapons have been supplied, and how they're going to be used.

Listen to full BBC report:

1601 GMT: Bahrain EA's John Horne reports:

The British Foreign Secretary William Hague has released a statement on his meeting yesterday with Bahrain's Foreign Secretary (see 0747 GMT). He confirms that ith led to a the creation of a "new ministerial-level dialogue" which will meet annually. Hague describes the dialogue as "a forum to discuss key regional issues such as Syria, Iran and the impact of the Arab Spring". Hague also claimed this new dialogue can give Britain better abilities to "raise areas of concern", as well as discuss British support "Bahrain as it seeks to improve the situation in the country".

Hague's priority of security matters over human rights and reforms is unsuprising, however his faith in the Bahrain government's commitment to "improve the situation" is perhaps naive, especially coming hours after Amnesty International issued a damning new report on Bahrain entitled "Reform Shelved, Repression Unleashed".

1552 GMT: Syria. The fighting in Damascus has continued into another day. Shells continue to rock the eastern suburbs of Douma, Irbeen, and Harasta, as well the western suburb of Darayya, where regime forces are trying, and failing, to establish control on the ground. This video is a good example of the videos we've seen today from Darayya:

Adding to this is an interesting report from the LCC:

Damascus Suburbs: Mouadamyeh: Several wounded were reported due to the missile and artillery shelling of residential neighborhood. Shelling was from Mazzeh Airport and the 4th division's headquarters.

Mouadamyeh is between Mezzeh, bordering the center of the Assad leadership, and Darayya. Several morttar shells hit Mezzeh and central Damascus yesterday, so if the regime is now shelling Moudamyeh it could indicate that they are trying to hold off an insurgent advance into some of the most sensitive areas of the capital.

This report is unverified, and though these developments are dramatic, there is still not a clear indication that the FSA has enough strength to directly attack the center of power. Still, Assad's forces are clearly on edge, and because of the proximity of the fighting they have plenty of reason to be.

1436 GMT: Syria. According to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, 47 people have already been killed so far today across the country:

15 martyrs were reported in Damascus and its Suburbs, 13 in Aleppo, 5 in Homs, 5 in Idlib, 4 in Daraa, 2 in Deir Ezzor, 2 in Lattakia and 1 in Raqqa.

See our note on the casualty figures published by the LCC.

Just where we left off yesterday, Damascus is again a focal point for the violence. However, it also appears that the violence is also more widespread.

James Miller takes over today's live coverage. Thanks to Scott Lucas for getting us started today.

1219 GMT: Egypt. Al Jazeera's offices on Tahrir Square in Cairo have been firebombed. It is unclear who is responsible:

0932 GMT: Yemen. The National Post publishes a summary, "Dozens who Protested in Yemen during Arab Spring Still Missing": "Yemeni Human Rights Minister Hooria Mashhor told The Media Line that at least 64 of the youths who took part in the uprising against the former regime have been missing since 2011. In many cases, he said, their families have no information about their fate."

0929 GMT: Bahrain. A "senior US official" has expressed concern that the regime's failure to implement reforms is hindering political dialogue: "We are worried that this society is moving apart rather than coming together in a way that would ensure both human rights and stability."

The official continued, "It's absolutely clear that if society breaks apart, Iran will be the big winner and beneficiary."

The November 2011 report of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry called on the regime to implement 26 recommendations after the deaths of scores of protesters, the abuse of others in detention, and the suppression of dissent following the start of mass demonstrations in February 2011.

A review earlier this month found that the regime has implemented only three of the 26 recommendations and failed to take any steps on six others, including accountability of those accused of abuse and torture.

On Tuesday, Amnesty International issued a report criticising the regime's failure over reforms and warning that the human rights situation has "markedly deteriorated".

The US official said, "On the hardest issues, the government has not followed through. We remain concerned about increasing violence in Bahrain, by limits on free expression and assembly and a political environment that's become increasingly difficult and that's made reconciliation and political dialogue more difficult."

0919 GMT: Libya. The police chief in Benghazi, Libya's second city, Faraj al-Deirsy, was shot dead in front of his home overnight.

Al-Deirsy is the 18th security officer assassinated this year.

0752 GMT: Bahrain. Spectacular scenes in Parliament yesterday --- controversial MP Osama al-Tamimi set fire to an Israeli flag, saying he wanted to "send a clear message to the international community" (2:37 minutes in):

In April, Al-Tamimi called upon Bahrain's Prime Minister, who has been serving for 42 years, to step down. Shortly afterwards, gunmen attacked one of his businesses.

0747 GMT: Bahrain. The Bahrain State news agency reports that a "key memorandum of understanding, establishing a joint work team" with Britain was signed in London yesterday. The British Foreign Secretary William Hague and the Bahraini Foreign Secretary were reported as having "sealed the deal".

.

As yet, there has been no British comment on the terms of the understanding. The Bahrain statement says it will involve the two countries "[stepping] up political and diplomatic coordination" and coordinating "stances regarding security, the fight against terror, trade, investments and regional cooperation". Annual meetings of "the joint Bahrain-Britain work team" will be held to achieve this aim.

The Bahrain Government has a habit of promoting any and every such agreement as significant, and the British likes to keep a low profile concerning its official dealings with the regime. However, as with the new UK-Bahrain Defence Accord signed a few weeks ago --- also by the Bahraini Foreign Minister --- yesterday's development signals a further willingness for the Bahrain government to seek British, rather than American, allegiance. Moreover, the deal will be regarded by many in the opposition as a further sign that their pleas for greater democracy, accountability and human rights are simply falling on deaf ears when it comes to the British.

0745 GMT: Iraq Tensions are escalating on the unofficial border between the Iraqi Government and the northern region of Kurdistan, with the US becoming increasingly concerned.

Following clashes on Friday, which left one person dead, the Kurdish President Masoud said Saturday he is "fully prepared to confront any undesirable occurrence" and had "asked the Ministry of Peshmerga to take all necessary measures".

Seemingly in response, the Washington Post reports that yesterday "the Iraqi army rushed thousands of troops and reinforcements to the area".

Col. Dhia al-Wakil, a spokesman for the Iraqi army, said the additional troops were dispatched “only as a precautionary measure, to face any possible attack from the pesh merga”.

But Kurds said they suspect that the reinforcements, which include tanks and heavy artillery, signal an intent to attack their forces. “If the central government keeps sending these extra troops, we fear there may be clashes,” said Jabar Yawar, the pesh merga’s secretary general. “If one bullet is fired, the whole of the disputed areas will erupt in flames.”

American officials have stepped in to mediate amid concerns that a crisis that is rapidly becoming the country’s worst since U.S. troops left almost a year ago could explode into full-blown war. Diplomats are in contact with leaders throughout Iraq “to emphasize the need to move quickly to alleviate current tensions,” said a U.S. Embassy spokesman, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

0740 GMT: Syria. The Local Coordination Committees reports that 122 people were killed by security forces on Tuesday, including 52 in Damascus and its suburbs and 28 in Aleppo Province.

0725 GMT: Syria. After days of insurgent advances around the country, including the capture of several military bases, the Assad regime faced further shocks on Tuesday. The most dramatic was a mortar attack in a wealthy district of Damascus near Almadfa Park, followed by gunfire between insurgents and security forces.

There was also a further diplomatic setback for President Assad, as Britain joined countries formally recognising the opposition National Coalition "as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people" as violence continued to rage across the country. 

On Monday, the European Union announced recognition. Italy, Turkey, and the six Arab states of the Gulf Cooperation Council have also recognised the Coalition as the sole representative, while France has called it a legitimate representative and is now considering whether to arm insurgents. The US has said the Coalition is a legitimate representative but must demonstrate its ability to gather the support of Syrians inside the country.

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